Last Saturday (May 31st) Space Shuttle Discovery launched on the second of three missions to add the Japanese Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station, and in the process managed to actually damage the launch pad! Launches are known to be extremely violent events, so much so that absolutely NO personnel are permitted within a few miles of the pad. Space Shuttles are heavy beasties on their own, but for this mission, Discovery carried in her belly the largest piece of hardware ever to be launched using the reusable vehicle - the main Kibo laboratory. Every pound of weight on the launch pad required roughly ten pounds of extra fuel to launch, which isn't too difficult to imagine since fuel itself has weight. This particular launch unleashed the biggest surge of energy since the Apollo program, and parts the ageing pad crumbled under the strain.
In the image above, large chunks of concrete can be seen splashing into the water after being hurled into the air by the force of the launch.
And the damage can clearly be seen after the smoke and dust clears. The so called "flame trench" has to withstand not only incredible heat, but also tremendous pressure from the solid rocket boosters and Space Shuttle main engines.
Debris litters the roads surrounding the pad after the launch.
Watch this space for details of the mission.
Happy Spacing Spacers!
Posted by SpaceHead at 11:02 AM